Wednesday, February 27, 2013


John Romita Sr did not concern himself with using art materials that would best display his art for the collector aftermarket of today.  Instead his concern was how slick the ink would look on the published Marvel comics finished product.  To that end a lot of his originals were drawn on vellum instead of board.  Vellum is a transparent paper that allowed him to see over his pencils as he was drawing and gave his inks a polish that they lacked on regular board.  My understanding is that the regular board absorbs the ink to a greater extent.  The lighter transparent vellum allows the ink to roll better on the paper which gave Romita more control. The vellum piece, once drawn, was then glued down to a cover board which over the years in many cases has caused the cover to yellow or brown in tint. The upside is Romita created some absolute classics with this technique.  The downside is many of his great covers are not on board--the preferred collector medium.

A good restorer, in some cases, can bring a vellum board to look almost as good as a work on regular board.  But for the most part, collectors tend to view the vellum pieces as less valuable then their board counterparts.  In the past I've managed to get some very nice vellum Romita covers at far less than they would have cost on board.  But when it came time to sell them they always seemed to move for less and slower than similar board covers.  In addition to the way the cover looks, some collectors feel that the lack of pencils underneath the vellum also brings the price down.  Generally speaking the vellum acts as tracing paper and the pencils are left behind on a separate paper after the ink is put down on the vellum.  Board covers tend to have the pencil underneath the ink on the same piece of paper--you're getting both the artist's pencils and inks.

With the recent rise in prices I wonder if this type of prejudice will continue or if vellum covers will come to be more accepted by the collecting community in future.  Here are a number of vellum covers that I owned, or considered owning, at one time or another:

This cover, Conan 30, is one of the few vellum examples I've owned not by Romita.  The bat was drawn on vellum by Ernie Chan to create a visual effect on the published cover.  While this is not truly a vellum cover as the rest is drawn on board, the darker discoloration of the bat made it less desirable.

Here you can see the cover after restoration lightened up the bat to make it better fit with the overall color of the cover.

The Avengers 119 cover was a favorite of mine.  It was very brown when I had it restored.  I kept it for a number of years and made a slight profit when I sold it. Had it been on board I could have sold it for much more as comparable board covers had doubled in price during my tenure of ownership.  This can be the opportunity cost of owning a vellum cover if not purchased at a discount price.

On the other hand the ASM 145 cover was fairly inexpensive and I was able to trade it for quite a bit more.  It cleaned up very nice after restoration.  You can barely tell that it's a vellum cover.  In this case the image was so dynamic that I think it trumped the vellum and allowed for me to make a really strong trade.
The Sub-Mariner 69 is a beauty--every bit as attractive as the ASM 145.  Still I was only able to move this cover at a slight profit after keeping it for a number of years.

The Sub-Mariner 69 cover was purchased a couple years back.  It was inexpensive due to the title and brown coloration of the vellum.

After restoration it looks quite nice.  I haven't tested it's price on the market as I've decided to keep this beauty in my collection.  The disco Sub-Mariner outfit designed by Romita is a personal favorite.

A stunning Romita Luke Cage cover I had restored.  It took me a while to move even after this fine job of restoration.

The Invaders 1 cover is a personal favorite that I would have loved to own.  But I felt it was too expensive at the time it was auctioned off.  The vellum kept me from stepping up on a price that I felt was too high.  I thought I would never get out of it if I ever needed to.

A classic Romita Vellum cover.  Never owned, just admired.

The Spec Spidey 1 special edition cover--another vellum cover that looked great after restoration.  Still it took me quite a while to sell and at a price that wasn't very different then what I paid for the cover initially.  The vellum, I feel, hurt it's resale chances for me.

I'm wondering if vellum is still the turn off it once was...or if today's collector sees it as an opportunity to get a really cool cover at perhaps more of a bargain price. Or does vellum not matter to you at all as long as you get the image that you desire?  I think vellum is still a factor the collector HAS to consider when paying top dollar for a piece.  After all, you don't want to get stuck with an expensive piece you can't move do you?


  1. Great post Glen. it's always fun to discover the techniques artists used to develop their signature style. The reason I avoid pages that have been discolored like that was because of a bad mold outbreak on my comic book collection several years ago and it spread like wildfire. I live in a tropical climate and am terrified of the damage moisture can do to art that's paper integrity has been compromised.

  2. I think vellum is quite stable in moist climates. Vellum becomes fragile in dry climates.

  3. Actually, I don't mind getting stuck with an expensive piece I can't move. While I understand that for some it is, that's not my primary consideration in purchasing comic art.

  4. If you've got the money to burn, more power to you. I hope this wasn't your only take away from this post.

  5. I haven’t owned any vellum artwork and I will admit that I would want to pay lower if I were considering a purchase of something on vellum that had browned over the years. It would not be a show-stopper for me but the visual appeal of the art is a strong determining factor when making purchase decisions. I might be less inclined to discount the value as much if the page had significant personal meaning to me but I would still expect it to be less. To be honest, I think I would have to see a vellum piece in person to judge how well I like art drawn on the material. Being a vellum novice, I found this article to be very interesting – thanks for posting. I do have a couple questions: what is the cost of vellum restoration? … and do you find there to be a ballpark percentage value lost when selling a vellum piece as what you would expect it to go for on regular board?

    Great article Glen!


  6. Thanks Dave. Restoration can vary depending on what you have done. Anywhere from 400-1000. Some people just want the vellum removed and put on another clean board to make it appear better. That's not very expensive. But if you want the piece to look close to as good as a board cover were talking 800-1000. The vellum has to be removed and cleaned of the glue. In some cases it needs to be adhered to a white backing paper before being put back down to give it a whiter appearance.

    My guess is that vellum covers typically sell for about half of their board counterparts--but image being the major factor there are always exceptions at the high and low end.

  7. Great info – thanks! I will try and find someone selling one of these at a con to get a more hands-on perspective of vellum. It sounds to me like you may be able to get a great piece at a discounted price if the art is visually appealing. Does a restored vellum piece have the same expected shelf life as a regular board piece? Are there any special/different requirements for storage/preservation so that it doesn’t brown again?

  8. The browning is caused by the glue staining not age unless the paper has been exposed to sunlight. But the same can be said for a board cover if not protected from the sun. I think the shelf life should be similar. The only difference is that vellum is thinner paper and doesn't do well in dry conditions with little or no humidity.

  9. Thanks for the info Glen. My perception is that a vellum inked art is comparable to art inked over blue line printout. The pencils probably never touched the paper and that makes a big difference to me. There is the chance that a great penciled version of the cover will show up. I never thought of it as a prejudice but paper stock and the permanence of the ink or paint used to create it has always been a major consideration for me. Especially for the prices this type of work demands.


  10. Interesting point, Tom. I think that makes sense when the penciller and inker are two different people. In Romita's case, you are buying the finished inks as the original artist intended the published cover to look. I'm less bothered by the lack of pencils when the penciller and inker are one and the same. But you're right, a pencilled version can always turn up.

  11. Paper stock is an issue. But I don't think there is any difference in ink permanence between board and vellum.

  12. That's very true Glen. I regretted that comparison to blueline almost as soon as I posted it given the art in question is solely Romita. I stand by the comparison if he inked over other artists on vellum. In my case some of my fear comes from my lack of knowledge as to what is possible with restoration and how to properly archive something when it comes to that sort of paper.

    For me the vellum would be less of a concern than the permanency of the ink it was drawn with. I loved Gil Kane's inking style from the 80's and 90's but I won't go near his stuff at current prices because the markers he used turn pink and I'm not sure that can be restored. I don't know that this stuff bothers everybody but it drives me batty.


  13. As far as I know, Romita never used markers on any of his covers. Sketches are another story. I don't buy any vintage art done in marker. You're asking for trouble in time. Modern markers, however, are suppose to be much better. I'm still reluctant to buy marker pieces.

  14. I agree and for the most part I think traditional nibs and brushes look the best. The results John got with vellum were fantastic. I'll be curious to see how well the better Romita vellum covers fair at auction in the future.


  15. Interesting post, Glen. Well thought out and written.

    Back in the day, as you suggest, artists like Romita had the end-result in mind (how the art would look in print, rather than how the work would stand up as a valuable collectible to a present-day market for originals).

    Enjoy your OCAL posts, so keep up the good work!

  16. You own that Conan #30 cover?
    Did you buy it from Heritage Auctions?

    I owned it for decades and sold it recently... I loved that cover. The vellum never bothered me. At one point I had it framed and separated.

    1. I bought it from the person who purchased it through Heritage. The vellum bugged me mostly because it was on a separate piece as well as the discoloration. The restorer I used put them back on the same board so it displays as one image. You gotta admit it looks much better now. I don't own it any longer. I sold it last year.

  17. Hi,
    Enjoyed the info about vellum to help educate me on that facet of the art market. Now for an encore: I own the Holy Grail of comic cover art the 1st Battle in the Bronze Age and 2nd battle between for this Heavyweight Fight Card: Defenders #10 cover Thor vs Hulk! along with the Mint Color Proof.
    Seeing crazy prices realized on Romita covers on non-vellum pieces but as the saying goes a vellum piece "It is what it is". I noticed in the descriptions from Heritage that the vellum pieces sold before look like the entire image is on vellum. Is that true with the pieces you had before. My piece with the main battle is on vellum but the surrounding imagery(right side of cover has actual pencil ink art for the people and buildings and also on the left side of battle image along with Thor's hammer having pencil and ink art for the energy buildup around his hammer). So you get the best of both dynamic bold inks on vellum to emphasis the battle and pencil and ink around the battle image. Also as you have stated before tanning to browning can occur under the vellum. In my case I was thinking about getting cleaned up but probably would defer since mine gives a unique look to the cover(I suppose new and improved) has a pinkish to slight reddish tinge that makes your eyes focus on the battle image!
    Obviously an Iconic Image! Never seen a Heavyweight fight cover come up for auction from the Bronze or Silver age. I suppose these iconic covers only change through private channels. Checked Heritage database list and not even any interior pages have ever come for sale for Defenders #10 book. Been tempted to sell to in a auction house, but have talked by self out of it each time. Wanted to let collectors know this classic cover exists and has survived today!

    1. Sounds like a great cover, Mark. I'd love to see a scan if you wanted to shoot one to The covers I had restored were mostly on one piece of velum, but I've seen it both ways like you describe. My feeling is if there is tanning the value can be affected greatly to the lower end for collectors if the piece does not display
      well. Even on an iconic image cover like yours. Still a great piece.

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